I make a new meatball recipe at least once a year because I love them so much. I told my kids that when I’m too old to cook, there are only a handful of foods I would want on my weekly menu, and meatballs are one of them. I figure, if I can’t chew, or have a hard to time with certain foods, they can alter the ingredients in my meatballs to fit my dietary needs. Traditional meatballs have beef and pork, and I usually start with both. However, in this recipe, I used bison instead of beef, just to change it up. Bison is actually lower in fat and calories than beef, but I also used ground pork, so maybe I’m just splitting hairs? I figured it might give the meatballs the right balance of fat, and you know what? I think I might be on to something.
Fennel seeds help enhance the hardy taste of meat and when you toast them up in a skillet with some onions, you really have yourself a great addition of flavor. There’s something lovely about the aroma of fennel seeds when cooking. They smell sort of both sweet and savory, much better than perfume, in my opinion. I like to add them slightly warm to the mixture of meat, but then work real fast to mix it together, so the egg and ricotta cheese don’t begin to cook in the bowl.
After years and years of making sauce, I think the best marinara just comes from a can of crushed tomatoes. I only added a whole clove of garlic into the pan with the tomatoes, and a big teaspoon of salt, and that’s it. This simple sauce does wonders with meatballs and I let them hang out in there awhile, so they really get a chance to get to know one another, if you know what I mean. Sunday Sauce some may call it, but I think it’s just a good pan of meatballs myself.
1 white onion, diced
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
3 cloves garlic, divided
1 pound ground bison or lean beef
1 pound ground pork
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1 cup whole milk Ricotta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese + more for topping
2 teaspoons oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
salt & pepper
1 pound baby spinach leaves
olive oil for cooking
- In a large sauté pan, add 2 teaspoons olive oil and place over medium heat. Add onion and sauté for 3 minutes. Add fennel seeds and stir. Cook for 2 minutes, allowing seeds to slightly toast. Mince 2 cloves of garlic and add to pan, leaving remaining clove whole, for sauce. Cook for 1 minute and remove pan from heat, set aside.
- In a large bowl, add bison, pork, Panko, ricotta, Parmesan, oregano and red pepper flakes. Add 1 tablespoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Using hands, blend meat gently together with a tossing motion (you don’t want tough balls).
- In the same large sauté pan as you cooked onions, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and place back over medium-high heat. Form meatballs into golf-ball-sized rounds and add them to pan. Brown all sides of meatballs, turning occasionally. Remove and set aside in large bowl.
- In same sauté pan, add crushed tomatoes, remaining garlic clove and 1 teaspoon salt. Place over medium-low heat and cook for 3 minutes. Add meatballs back into pan, rolling meatballs in sauce to coat. Cover pan with lid and cook until meatballs are done, and flavors have melded together, about 30 minutes.
- Sauté spinach in a separate pan with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and spoon into bowls or on plates. Top with meatballs, sauce and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!